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Review – X-O Manowar Volume 1: By The Sword

x-o manowar cover

Let me start with this statement: Until recently I had never read a book from Valiant before. Sure, I’ve seen some of their titles on the shelves recently and back in the “olden days”, but I had never picked one up, partly because I had heard nothing about it. Since my time at ComicBooked.com, though, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Valiant and their properties. So, when they announced that they were releasing their trades in 2013, I ordered one of each to give it a shot. With the hype I was hearing, I didn’t think I would be disappointed. When I picked up the first trade, X-O Manowar, I can honestly say that disappointed was not the word… Awestruck is a much better description.

When I’m exposed to a new franchise or new characters, sometimes it takes me a few reads to really get into the characters. Not so with this first volume of X-O Manowar, which collects the first four issues of the series. From the get-go, the story dives right in and gets you hooked. It’s very Star Wars-esque in the way that you start just as battle is about to begin, but it’s not the battle you might expect to see right away. No, this takes place some time ago… as in around 400 A.D., not like last week. Although I do have some knowledge of history, I don’t know every little detail. Writer Robert Venditti, though, must have thought that most of the readers would be like me and provided us a timeline as to what happens in the time period of the book. We see a brief infographic covering the differences between the Visigoths and the Roman Empire, who are continually at odds. (I only vaguely remember talking of this time period from my college history classes…)

The main character is Aric, nephew to the King of the Visigoths. In a battle against the Romans, Aric goes on the offensive. Although brave, he is often foolhardy and his father pays the price. Instead of wallowing in grief, Aric needs to vent his frustrations so it’s somewhat fortuitous that a rather large transport device is nearby. The Visigoths attack, only to discover that the transport does not contain Romans but some otherwordly creature – basically, aliens. x-o interiorYes, that may sound kind of cheesy, but it works with this story. Aric and many others are captured and are taken aboard the alien ship, where they become indentured slaves. Now Aric is not one to follow authority blindly and he lashes back at his captors… several times. No matter how much abuse, how much pain and suffering he encounters, he fights back.

During one of his escapes on board the ship, he notices the aliens worshiping this strange sphere. The sphere unravels and surrounds the alien as if it were a suit of armor. Upon the helmet snapping in place, though, the creature dies. And this is not the first time. Finally, having had enough, Aric leads a rebellion around one of these times and they enter the chamber where the priests are devoting time to the sphere. Aric approaches the sphere and dons the armor, and promptly collapses… Until the armor restores him to full health and he has full access over its power. His colleagues, however, prove that although fierce warriors they are subject to fall at the hands of the aliens’ weaponry, leaving only Aric alive. And his greatest wish is to return home to Rome. While focusing on this as the aliens begin a coordinated attack, Aric vanishes…

…And returns to Rome, but with a small twist. This is Rome in the 21st Century. Many who have read a fair amount of sci-fi know that when there is travel faster than the speed of light there is also a level of time distortion that occurs. Well, that’s happened to Aric as he descends – flying – within the Manowar armor above modern-day Rome. It’s all about to come to a head with Aric realizing what has happened, and with all this I never even mentioned the subplot of the alien sleeper agents on Earth…

Robert Venditti wrote this gem of a story. He did not create the characters, but he gave them new life and an updated origin. From what I understand in talking to fans of the older and current series, he did it justice as well. I was not as familiar with Venditti as a writer, but I know he has recently taken over as scribe of DC’s Demon Knights from Paul Cornell, and I was suitably impressed with his first issue there but that pales as to how much I enjoyed this story. It had the right levels of sci-fi, history, and modern-day action that just makes for an intriguing story. It jumps around at times, but only when it has to and only when it serves the plot – it’s not jumping around for the sake of it. The characterization is great and, although I don’t speak Visigoth, I can imagine the attitudes of the people of those times being spoken as Venditti wrote them.

Artists Cary Nord and Stefano Gaudiano have also done an amazing job here with the pencils and inks respectively, and their colleague Moose Baumann on colors has only managed to take the artwork up to nothing short of amazing. There is incredible detail without being overkill. There’s a depth to the art that  really sets the proper mood as well – from the darkness of the slave pits on the spacecraft to the battle with the Romans to modern-day Rome… The team has bonded well together to give the book a feeling that it is something special – and it is. Let’s also not forget the alternate covers that include Esad Ribic, Doug Braithwaite and David Aja – all the covers are presented in their splendor within the volume.

To say that Valiant hit a home run with this title is to put it lightly. Very few books have me captivated from the get-go, so much so that I could not put it down. Although I loved the story, I honestly cannot buy the individual issues… the monthly wait is too much for me when in mid-story. But the volumes such as this are on my purchase list each and every time they come out. The story is strong, the art is amazing, and it’s a captivating story that I believe would do the original X-O creators proud. And with the success here, I’m looking forward to reading Valiant’s second release, Harbinger

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Comments (2)

Scorp_Moonopoly

Yeah I would say you get your money's worth here.

jeffhillwriter

Might have to pick this up. Missed it the first time around, but I'm really enjoying Shadowman and I liked the old series from the 90s quite a bit.

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